Sermon on Matthew 16 8-13-17 “Getting It Right in The End”
“Getting it In the End” Matthew 16 8/13/17 Dr. J Ben Sloan
This past June a Ms. Lewis from Richmond Virginia went on a vacation to Myrtle Beach. While she was gone she allowed her friend of a few months, Ms. Harris, borrow the car. When Ms Lewis, the car owner, got back she called her friend and the borrower at first said she would return it. But then she kept driving it and refused to give it back. Ms. Lewis in desperation filed a police report and Mrs. Harris is still on the run for grand theft auto. Each year 700,000 cars are stolen in America. There just is a problem when someone thinks your property is their property. I think too often in the American church, we begin to think the church is not God’s but it is ours. We believe because we have worked for it, tended it, prayed for it, that the church is ours. Perhaps you remember the story of the Vineyard owner who asked some workers to be the stewards of his vineyard. They wanted the vineyard for themselves and would not give any tribute to the owner. After sending messenger after messenger who went unheeded (these are the prophets), the owner finally sent his son and the stewards said if we get rid of him the vineyard is ours. The church is not mine, it is not the elders, it is not the presbytery’s, it is not yours. It is God’s. It is ours in that we are called to care for it. We belong to it, but it does not belong to us in the ownership sense.
Jesus told Peter I will build MY CHURCH. It is His. Jesus builds His church. We deceive ourselves when we think the church is just a human institution. It is a God given, miraculous institution. There is always a sense of awe and mystery- a supernatural element to church. No one who is part of God’s invisible church- that is those who truly believe and will go to heaven- got there on their own. We are born from above- born again. We do not give birth to ourselves. When LMPC got started, many said it would never work. They said there are lots of churches out there already- there’s no need, no one will come. Several times people thought our church would fail. But this is not our church. You may think you just wandered into this place because you saw our sign out front, or a friend invited you to shuck n peel, or you were just tired of living your life for fishing, golf and sports, or when you had children you felt you needed more, but you are not here by accident. It is His church. I think it is super special that the Creator of the universe, the Creator of the eclipse calls us one by one to gather together- to form a team, a family, build a spiritual building, grow a spiritual tree that bears fruit. He begins it- and it is His church. It is not just another secular helping-civic-networking institution.
If you think about it, the church is in so many ways a miracle- going beyond anyone’s wildest dreams or expectation. In the early 1900s there were government efforts in Russia, China, Vietnam, Cuba but it has grown there. Even North Korea has not eliminated the church. Time Magazine said God is dead in 1966, Huxley and Russell hinted that the church would die by 2000. Christianity is still the fastest growing- number wise and conversion wise religion in the world. You could make a good case that overall atheism is shrinking. Marx and Lenin thought that they could crush the church by simply getting people to value work, athletic prowess and human achievement, and the common good. 200,000 priests were killed in one year 1928-29 and it is estimated 12 million Christians died from persecution during the existence of the Soviet Union. Moscow which had 600 churches in 1917 had only 5 by 1930. It was thought that religion had been snuffed out. But people grew bored with the anti-religious propaganda. Students quit attending atheistic indoctrination classes and militant atheist club meetings. Magazines that promoted atheistic propaganda lost their subscribers. When the church was allowed to exist in the 1980’s Glasnost, it blossomed. When the Soviet Union fell, it is not accident that the government embraced the church and actually encouraged religious teaching in public schools. This has been duplicated in thousands of places. China tried to snuff out the church and still does not allow the building of new church buildings. When Communist China took over mainland China and kicked the missionaries out there were only 1 million Christians there. Today there are over 100 million active believers. The church is a miracle that cannot be fully explained by human sociological rationale. He will build His church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.
Perhaps you have heard this- but the gates of hell are not an offensive weapon. Gates are meant to keep some in and keep others out. The gates of hell are not there to attack the church but to keep people in and keep the church and God out. Jesus was saying that the gates of hell do not stand up against the church. He uses us sinful, weak, hurt people to work together. The gates of hell do not prevail against god through the church. The church is not just an organization- it is His body. It is the primary way that God acts. So we are called to not tear down the body of Christ, but to build it up. When someone self mutilates their body- tries to tear at it or make it sick or even destroy it we know that is wrong. When we are super or hyper critical of the church to the point that it is not constructive but destructive criticism there is only one person that hurts- ourselves. The body of Christ goes on. The church may shrink so small that we may think it will not survive. But Christ always leaves a remnant- a root from which the tree grows again- as in Russia, as in China, so in our culture too.
Peter gets it. He is a bit inconsistent in his following- saying Christ shouldn’t die and then denying him three times. But in the end he gets it- as he gets the basics here toward the end of Christ’s earthly ministry. In some ways he makes the first official profession of faith in Christ, and it was elicited by Christ who asked him- “Who do people say that I am?”- and then “Who do YOU say that I am?” Jesus purposefully went to the most pagan region to ask this question. Caesarea Philippi was mostly gentile, and was one of the few places in Israel that had pagan temples in it at the time. It was in northern Galilee what is now the Golan Heights of Syria and was one of the centers of Pan worship. Pan was the goat god of music and the wild. It was here among the pagans and their many gods that Jesus asked his followers who He was. This also was one of the holy sites for Baal fertility worship. The mouth of a huge underground cavern is there. The Canaanites believed that when the fertility God got tired he went underground for the winter at this spot. The Jews called the mouth of the cave- the gates of Hades. Ironically, near this same spot the Jordan Rivers fountainhead starts. The River Jordan- a symbol still of eternal life, of baptism and repentance starts in this very pagan place. And in this most pagan place Jesus elicits the profession that He is the Christ the Son of the Living God. God is god of the whole earth- both the pagan gentile parts and also in the sanctuary. He wants us to make our professions not only in church but also out in the world.
The answer given is telling. Some said Jesus was a great teacher, a good philosopher. Some said he was even a prophet sent from God. But Peter made the observation that He was more- “You are the Christ- (the Messiah) the Son of the living God.” It was this profession of faith that the church is built on. It is this rock or the profession- and all those who make it- including Peter- that the church is built on. Ephesians 2:20- speaks of the foundation of the apostles. We stand on their shoulders. If they did not know who Jesus was, the church would have fizzled out. But when people put their faith in Christ and then work together amazing things happen. When Peter said that Jesus was the Christ or Messiah- He was all in. He wasn’t halfway committed. He wasn’t just curious. He wasn’t uncertain. He was clear and his profession and faith drove Him, motivated Him to make a difference for Christ and build up the church.
Now this doesn’t mean the church doesn’t fail or that its apostles or ministers are perfect. The good news is that despite our imperfections- despite our being a mixture of good wheat and bad weeds, of having good and bad fish in God’s net- God still uses us.
But the question that makes the church, on which we build is “who do you say that I am?” Not who do people say that I am. Not who did Peter say Jesus was. But the question is to you- “Who do you say Jesus is?” If you can answer, “The Christ, the Son of the Living God” you are a part of the body, a part of the building, apart of the family. Hell will not be able to stop you. Christianity is not simply about self-development or coping or helping others- though these are all results of faith they are secondary. The basics is giving the answer “You are the Christ the Son of the Living God.”
Google has been testing self-driving cars since 2009, and they now have cars on the road in 4 markets including Phoenix AZ. . There are 18 other companies working on this- including Tesla who claims they will have one public by 2018. With such technology they can eliminate drunk driving, distracted driving, tired driving and enabled folks who are blind and disabled to get on the road not to mention bad taxi or uber drivers. But this also eliminates stealing cars. The car comes back home. Can you imagine a rental car that really just goes back to the airport on its own? God already has this- not cars but us. No one can snatch His people- His church out of his hand- not trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness, danger or sword. Nothing can take us away from God’s love for His bride. In the end, we will realize the church is not a human institution- it is God’s, and God brings us all back to Himself. We will come back home to Him. He will build His church and the gates of hell cannot keep us in or keep us from breaking those gates down. We are not our own- we have been bought with a price. But you and I are called to make the good profession of faith- “You are the Christ the Son of the Living God.”